Untrue and unfortunate

LERONE Laing assumed the role as Toll Authority of Jamaica CEO in October 2009 amidst controversy, with allegations that he did not meet the minimum requirement for the post and was only appointed by then Minister of Transport Robert Montague because of their close ties.

Almost four years later Laing’s tenure has come to an end in similar controversial fashion, with claims that he abandoned the job after failing to return to work following his vacation last month.

At the time of his appointment the transport ministry came to Laing’s defence, pointing out that he met the required competencies for the post as he holds a Master of Science in Economics (with distinction), and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with Upper Second Class Honours.

Now, at the end of his tenure, Laing is speaking up for himself, telling the Jamaica Observer that the claim he abandoned his job is untrue.

“I reject that assertion categorically. It is unfortunate and, quite frankly a misrepresentation of the facts that I went on vacation leave and did not return and therefore would have abandoned my post,” Laing told the Observer in response to a reported claim by the chairman of the board, William Shagoury.

According to Laing, on July 6 he was formally offered a scholarship to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration, in the United States.

“Quite frankly, the offer presented me with a once in a lifetime opportunity to advance my education and career path, which I accepted,” said Laing.

“The programme was slated to commence on August 22, therefore I did not have much time to transition from the authority. I immediately informed the authority’s board chairman, and shortly after the board [was also informed], of the developments. I also immediately requested study leave in accordance with the Staff Orders for the Public Service (2004),” added Laing.

He told the Observer that he embarked on the vacation leave which he was entitled to at the end of August, to allow for any deliberations and consultations of his study leave request.

“I also, during this time, submitted to the board’s attention other options in the event that the study leave request was not granted. This was in my attempt to ease any leadership transition and to cauterise the effect of potential disruptions to the operations of the authority.

“My suggestions to ease the transition were founded on the fact that the board had before it, for final approval, several projects of the authority that were coming to fruition and to which delay and/or lack of proper oversight could be detrimental to the Jamaican taxpayer,” said Laing.

He added that in his correspondence to the board he expressed a willingness to be available to guide/or consult on the projects, given the significant gains made under his leadership with respect to their execution, “where the institutional knowledge I possess may be useful towards their timely and effective implementation”.

According to Laing, despite his attempts to try to arrive at a mutually agreeable position with respect to the departure from the Toll Authority, two days after his vacation leave ended on September 25 his work e-mail was deactivated without any formal communication or a response to his request.

“I then received a letter, dated October 2, 2023, from the board chairman asking for my resignation effective September 26, 2023. I responded immediately requesting a mutual termination,” said Laing.

Responding to Shagoury’s reported claim that his proposal to be re-employed as an advisor to the authority while overseas was not appropriate and could be problematic if it was approved by the board, Laing argued that he made no suggestions or requests that would cause the authority to run afoul of any ethical and/or legal stipulation.

“I reject that assertion categorically,” declared Laing as he pointed to some of the projects which he believes would have benefited from his institutional knowledge, having spent almost four years leading the Toll Authority.

These include the National Toll Road Development Plan (NTDP) which has been mandated under the Toll Road Management Regulations (2003).

Laing noted that despite being mandated some two decades ago, the NTDP has not been developed and that he had made this one of his priorities.

“The NTDP would function as the overarching blueprint for toll road development and operations in Jamaica. It would address critical gaps which exist currently in the regulation of our toll roads, for example toll pass interoperability.

“Many Jamaicans have asked why are two different electronic toll passes necessary to access the current two legs of our toll roads. The answer is that there is currently no legislative framework that requires operators of toll roads to have a single universal system. The NTDP would address this critical gap in the interest of the Jamaican people,” said Laing.

Laing told the Observer that other critical gaps which would be addressed by virtue of the various projects commenced under his leadership of the Toll Authority include the toll road emergency response schematics — which is critical to saving lives — and the toll road monitoring fees legislation which would ensure that Jamaicans benefit financially from the tolls they pay.

“It was a privilege to serve the authority and the people of Jamaica during my tenure as CEO. As the youngest head of an entity in the transport ministry [28 years old] under which I served, I am proud of achievements under my tenure in terms of improving the capacity of the authority and the foundation laid for future growth.

“I wish the authority all the best in the future, and despite this most recent and unfortunate assault on my reputation I stand firm as a patriotic Jamaican,” declared Laing.